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4 Week Low Volume Workout Plan Challenge
An Experiment To Show How Little Volume You Need
Yesterday I wrote a tweet about trying a very low volume workout plan for weeks to break this idea many have that you need a lot of volume to grow and make progress.
I was not expecting it to get as much traction as it did, so I figured I’d elaborate here and provide a better framework to follow.
Again, the goal is to prove that you don’t need much to grow in the gym, and by providing this framework, you can see how you respond to lower volume and adjust your workout programming with your newfound knowledge of your body from this experiment.
Best case, you make the best progress you have in a long time, or ever, by training with just enough stimulus to allow maximum recovery.
Worst case, you spend a month making moderate progress and go back to what you were doing—it’s only a month, so a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme.
These are training methodologies first implemented by Arthur Jones, the Godfather of High Intensity Training, who influenced greats like Mike Mentzer and Dorian Yates, and just look at this guy, how can you not listen to a guy feeding an elephant while holding a gat?
For those I’m suggesting this to (relative beginners/novices/intermediates), I am highly confident no one will regress and actually lose any progress, though very low volume, it is still about 1 set per week above the baseline where literature shows maintaining muscle will happen at a minimum.
Workout Setup and Structure
The entire premise of this is going to be taking very hard sets in as close proximity to failure as you can get and progressing from this point. From this post, you can see training to failure provides some benefits & can be done extremely safely (the word “failure” scares some, don’t be).
While 4 weeks is not a lot of time, that is just the small ask to try an experiment, if it works, no reason to stop until it doesn’t work. This is not much time to add a bunch of weight and make crazy progress, but I’m confident you will see more progress than you’re expecting.
The gist is very simple, but I will add some suggestions to make it work even better.
Who It’s For
The ideal candidate here is someone who is not completely new to the gym, meaning you understand proper form and movement technique, but not so advanced that you have a ton of development and training years under your belt (though you still might make great progress if never training in this fashion)—hence I suggested people who have been working out for 1-3 years.
The workouts will be set up in a Full-Body fashion, working out 3 days a week with 1 day of rest between sessions and 2 consecutive days off after the 3rd session of the week (if running Mon, Wed, Fri then weekends would be rest days).
Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday is another popular variation, you’d have Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday off.
Another option is to lift Monday, off Tuesday, lift Wednesday, off Thursday and Friday, lift Saturday, and off Sunday to allow a little more recovery between sessions.
Regardless of how you decide to set this up, you will have 4 days off a week, with 2 of those rest days being consecutive days (very important for recovery).
How I would set up the exercise order would be:
1 Chest Compound
1 Shoulder Compound
1 Tricep Compound
1 Back Width Compound (Lats)
1 Back Thickness Compound (Upper/mid back)
1 Bicep Compound
1 Leg Curl
1 Leg Compound
1 Leg Extension
1 Calf Raise
In total, 10 movements, even if 3-4 minutes of rest between + 20-40 seconds per lift, you are out of the gym in under an hour which is productive for testosterone/cortisol numbers.
Now, we could run it this way as is, or could swap the order and do legs first then upper body every other lift if we want, up to you, but this is my general setup—if doing more than 1 set, like my actual Full-Body Program I would flip the workouts every other lift, but with only 1 set it doesn’t matter as much.
Now, with this, ideally, you will have 2 different workouts following this layout and you will rotate between those workouts every other workout—Monday: Workout A, Tuesday: Workout B, and Friday: Back to Workout A.
When I say compound, this doesn’t mean free weight or dumbbells inherently, machines can work for this too.
Ideally, you will do exercises where it is safe to work to failure and exercises that target the muscle you are trying to work well.
I don’t care what you do, just make it make sense, probably not smart to bench press, deadlift, and squat on the same day, but do whatever you want.
In the original tweet, I said 6-10 reps, which will work.
If you want and I haven’t lost or confused you, you could do 1 workout with lower reps, say 6-10 reps, and the next workout higher reps, say 12-15, then the next back to 6-10 reps, and repeat that cycle.
Up to you, both work, the second option might work just a hair better because we are working more of the rep range.
Now the 3rd option here and I really only suggest this if you’re really following along and want to experiment further with this:
It would be to do lower reps for upper body (6-10) and higher reps for lower body (12-15) one workout.
Then switch the order like I described above (or not, don’t necessarily need to, just might help recovery) and start with legs for lower reps (6-10) and upper body for higher reps (12-15)
And then back to lower rep upper/higher rep lower and rotate it that way for the 4 weeks or until you don’t feel like doing this anymore
If you are lost, just forget it and run the 1st or 2nd option. (For reference you could look at this program in regards to what I mean here).
1 Set to Failure
When it says 1 set to failure, that means that you physically cannot press another rep without breaking form. Failure means you cannot perform another rep in the concentric portion of the lift.
If you were to have a gun to your head and you would be shot if you could do another rep, that is how this should look.
But make no mistakes, form and safety are key aspects so do not try to force reps with bad form and use a spotter if it makes sense to use a spotter.
Progressing With Logbook
You MUST track your lifts here—nonnegotiable, if you don’t want to, try another workout plan—this is how you will know if it’s working or not, this is also how you will gauge when to add weight to ensure muscle growth.
Whatever rep range you are going with, you will select a weight that you can do *to failure* for that amount of reps.
For my Chest Compound, if I were to do Incline Bench and my rep range was 6-10 reps, I would select a weight I can do for 6 reps.
You would then do that exercise until you can get it to the top of the rep range which is 10 reps, once you can get 10 reps, you would then at this point add enough weight that would take you back to 6 reps and repeat the process—this is progressive overload.
If you can’t make progress with a lift after 3 separate times doing that lift, swap it for a new exercise.
You want to take 2-5 minutes between exercises to ensure you are recovered and ready to attack the next movement with optimum intensity.
There really is no “set time” my advice with this and nearly every lifting program is to take enough rest between sets to be ready to perform at peak performance and not even really track time at all.
Simply put, the best way to warm up for an exercise is to perform sets of the exercise at a lighter weight.
You do NOT need some excessive warm-up routine and this can be counterproductive.
How many warm-up sets? That’s up to you, as many as you need to feel primed and prepped to perform your working sets safely at maximum intensity.
A safe rule of thumb is 3 if you want specific guidance, something like this:
Set 1 - Empty Bar for 15-20 reps
Set 2 - 50% working set (NOT 1RM) for 12-15
Set 3 - 70-80% working set for 5-8 reps
You might need more, this is fine, this is just a general recommendation.
This is pretty much the entire gist, try this for 4 weeks and follow this as closely as possible—resist adding more volume.
If you see good progress, great, you know just how little it can take to grow muscle. Stick with something like this if you want or modify it and tweak it to how you like—I do not care, this is just an experiment to teach you something valuable.
If you hate it and didn’t like your progress, learn from what you didn’t like and what you did like and apply it to your own lifting regimen.
Approach this as an experiment, flush any preconceived notions down the toilet and just try it—the goal is to take away knowledge and hopefully break the belief that more is more in the gym, it’s not necessarily to be “the best program you’ve ever tried”, though some will come away with that experience.
Anyway, I have another actual scheduled post to write and I did this as a little unexpected, bonus early Christmas gift for anyone who wants to try this.
This is not Legal, Medical, or Financial advice. Please consult a medical professional before starting any workout program, diet plan, or supplement protocol. These are opinions from a Cartoon Ox.